Blackheads form when pores are clogged with dead skin cells and excess sebum. In other words, blackheads are just a clump of dirt and oil mixed together in your pores.
So for people with combination or very oily skin types, they may be more prone to having acne and blackheads, especially on their nose area.
To help you get rid of those nasty blackheads, we asked experts about the best methods for blackhead prevention and removal that will change your life.
Table of Contents
- Blackheads 101
- It’s best to treat blackheads from the inside out
- The best over-the-counter treatment for blackheads
- Crucial steps you must take to get rid of blackheads
- Exfoliate 2-3 times a week with a salicylic acid-based exfoliator
- Hormones cause the sebaceous glands to increase oil production, which gets secreted into the pores/follicles.
- Pores are lined with the same cells as your skin surface. These cells slough off, like regular skin cells, but if they don’t get pushed out of the pore naturally, they sit in the pore.
- When the oil and dead skin cells combine, they create a dense mixture that clogs up the pore, aka, the Comedone.
- If the pore is open, the oil at the surface gets oxidized and turns dark, hence the name ‘blackhead’.
- If the pore is closed over, you get white bumps, aka, ‘whiteheads’.
Prevention and Treatment
Beta hydroxy acids (Salicylic Acid) is a great ingredient to help reduce greasiness and help soften up the contents of the comedone. It can be drying. Because it is drying, it can temporarily leave pores looking smaller and tighter. Pore size is genetic and you cannot actually shrink them.
Alpha hydroxyl acids (glycolic acid, lactic acid) can be less irritating and drying to some sensitive or drier skin types. It will help soften comedonal debris and lightly exfoliate the skin, leaving it smoother and helping to open the comedones to let the debris out.
Benzoyl Peroxide is both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory and can help loosen up and break down the comedone contents.
Toners are not a necessary step for all skin care regimens, but for greasy, acnegenic skin, using a salicylic acid toner (liquid or wipe) on the face after washing (or on the chest and back after the gym!) can allow the ingredient to linger in the pore to keep it dry and contents soft and remove the ‘black’ surface.
On the spot treatment: Salicylic acid gels help to dry up superficial acne lesions and can help make discrete blackheads look less obvious or ‘black’.
Retinoids: this class of vitamin A derived topical medications work by making the cells in the pore less sticky so that they can be pushed out, rather than clogging up the pore. They ‘teach‘ the skin to bring new skin cells to the surface, exfoliating older ones. You can find retinols over the counter. Prescription-strength: Tretinoin (Retin-A, Atralin, Ziana…) and Adapalene (Differin). You can actually purchase the lowest prescription-strength Adapalene gel over the counter now – it is called Differin.
Enzymatic peels can help break down surface skin oils and gently exfoliate the top layer of dead skin cells, to help prevent clogging. Look for fruit acids like pineapple, papaya, and pumpkin.
Pore Strips – these can be used once in a while with caution. They stick to the top layer of the skin and may help pull out some of the surface debris from blackheads, but they also rip out sebaceous filaments (part of your pore!), fine hairs and the top layer of skin. If it dries too much and hurts to remove, don’t rip it off! Wet the strip and gently ease it off the skin.
Black Peels, Gel Peels that dry and get pulled off – stay away from these. They may remove some surface debris from the pore, but they also dry around the fine hairs on the face and will rip them out when you pull them off, together with the top layers of skin. This is very painful. They can also irritate sensitive, fragile, acne skin and even slow healing of inflamed acne lesions or potentially cause scarring!
It’s best to treat blackheads from the inside out
The quick fix for blackheads is to:
- First, take a steamy shower to open up the pores.
- Gently exfoliate using a facial scrub, such as a homemade one combining antioxidant-rich ground coffee beans mixed in jojoba oil, which doesn’t clog pores.
- Make a mask using 1:1 bentonite clay and water. The clay acts like a sponge to help pull out the black head. If you need extra-cleansing power, mix the clay with apple cider vinegar instead of water.
- Apply the mask and let it sit for 20 to 45 minutes. You may feel the mask start to tighten on your face as it dries out.
- Rinse off with warm water.
- As a finishing step, apply witch hazel with a cotton ball to help tone the face.
Voila! Repeat up to 3 times per week as needed. If your face starts to feel dry, pat with nourishing rosehip seed oil.
Of course, it’s best to treat blackheads from the inside out for lasting beauty and confidence.
Related: How to Be Confident with Your Body?
Jennifer Winter, PA-C
Physician Assistant Dermatology, Dermatology and Allergy Specialists of Olympia
The best over-the-counter treatment for blackheads
It is helpful to understand what blackheads are and what they are not. Our pores are hair follicle and oil gland combination units. Normal function includes skin cells and oils being produced and migrating up and out of the pore where they are sloughed away by normal daily activities.
As the oil and skin cell mix gets near the surface it is exposed to the air and turns black. This discoloration is similar to how an apple turns brown when cut and exposed to the air. This process is all normal function so far. So some dark stuff in a pore is expected and will not clear even with effective blackhead treatment.
Blackheads happen when the oil and skin cell mix get sticky and get stuck in the hair follicle so that the plug cannot move up and get sloughed off.
They are usually dark as described above, but some are flesh colored bumps if there is a thin skin covering preventing the air from getting to the plug.
The best over the counter treatment for blackheads is adapalene.
It was recently available by prescription only. It is found as Differin gel or as adapalene in other products such as those sold by Proactive. It may be in other products as well. It works by making the skin cell and oil plug less sticky and more slippery so the plug moves up and gets sloughed off.
It returns the pore to normal function. It does not vacuum out the pore and make it look as if there were no pore there. There will still be dark material in the pore since that is a normal function.
Adapalene can be irritating and should be used cautiously, in the beginning, starting with shorter application times and working up to being left on all night. It is for treatment and prevention of new blackheads and should be used to all acne prone areas, and not as spot treatment of pimples.
It takes some time to be fully effective so don’t give up too soon on it. Keeping pores clear of blackheads can help prevent some pimples too so ongoing treatment is a good idea.
I think educating people about the process helps them understand what to expect from treatment.
Beauty Expert | Founder, Skin Care Ox
Crucial steps you must take to get rid of blackheads
Here are the steps you must take to get rid of blackheads on your nose:
Cleanse your face
Make sure you wash your face with a product designed to treat blackheads and acne.
Related: Best Face Wash for Oily Skin
Open your clogged pores
Opening the pores is key and will help to remove any gunk that may be stuck deep inside. First, apply a warm compress. Then, use a facial steamer. Finally, apply a clay mask that will help to unclog junk from your pores. The clay will dry and then gently pull dirt and dead skin from your pores.
Apply a toner (optional)
Toners will also help remove excess dirt and oil and a great toner will soften the pores to assist in dislodging blackheads.
Using your blackhead removal tool, place the tool over the blackhead and gently apply pressure to one side of the blackhead until it is dislodged. If the blackhead is not released, gently apply pressure to the opposite side. When the blackhead is released, gently press down and move the tool across the top of the blackhead. If the pore is still clogged, repeat this step until the pore is clear.
Cleanse and treat
Wash your face again and apply a blackhead or acne treatment. This will help prevent future blackheads.
Owner & Esthetician, RZD Beauty
Exfoliate 2-3 times a week with a salicylic acid-based exfoliator
Blackheads on the nose are a very common concern I see among clients. Many people think it is “dirt” in the pores but it is actually a build up of oil and dead skin that turns black due to exposure to oxygen (like a cut apple sitting out for too long).
Since many people have more active sebaceous or oil glands along the T-zone, the nose is prone to get clogged up.
I find my favorite way to get rid of them and prevent new ones is having my clients exfoliate 2-3 times a week with a salicylic acid-based exfoliator. Unlike scrubs, which work on the surface, and other acids such as glycolic or lactic, which chemically breaks the bonds between skin cells, salicylic acid is unique in that it is attracted to oil.
It is, therefore, able to penetrate the pores where the oil is building up and help get rid of those annoying plugs. For those who are into more natural skincare, they can keep an eye out for Willow Bark extract, a natural form of salicylic acid.
Also, I encourage people not to fear hydration, moisturizers, or oils on the nose. Since people tend to get oily in the nose area, many people do not moisturize that area for fear of getting greasier skin. However, when the skin gets dehydrated, it starts over-producing oil as a response which leads to even more blackheads.
Therefore, moisturizing actually helps prevent new blackheads from forming. Certain oils, in particular, can actually be beneficial since the skin doesn’t feel the need to produce oil in the pores when it is already applied to the surface.
If someone really needs to proactively try to get rid of blackheads at home, I recommend a clay mask for the t-zone, rather than a pore-strip like Biore. The strips tend to be too harsh and remove skin and sebaceous filaments along with oil, which is likely to cause new oil plugs to form quickly after.
A clay mask instead can help draw out excess oil and refine the appearance of enlarged pores due to blackheads. Just make sure to moisturize after so the skin doesn’t end up too dry!
And, of course, when really necessary, I encourage people to go see an esthetician for professional extractions to really help provide a deep clean. Sometimes the skin just needs a reset and in the hands in a professional, people can make sure the blackheads are extracted carefully and safely.